Design Jobs

Why they will be the most valuable in the mid-range future.


I’ve been involved with efforts to get kids involved in computer science and coding at an early age. This has been something of a cause-celeb for several years now. Organizations like mine and larger entities like Code.org have mounted advocacy and programmatic aspects, while platforms like Scratch from MIT Media Labs have enabled access.

The reason myself, my colleagues, and my company have been involved in this coding education effort is for economic and workforce development purposes. We see it as a near-term pathway to breaking cyclic poverty and providing a foundation for recruitment and retention of companies that will employ a highly compensated know-based workforce.

That being said, computer science/coding isn’t preparing for a workforce of the future. It is for TODAY. We are already automated. Yes it is growing, but we’re talking a 5-year track for robots replacing professional jobs, not “next generation.

So, what’s next?

After a couple of decades of luke-warm government-sponsored space travel development, exponential momentum is gathering for moving humanity off our home base of spaceship Earth. The private sector has jumped headlong into the industrialization of extraterrestrial environments. Some of this is market-driven by commodity speculation, and some of it seems to be a result of a handful of billionaires dedicated to making their boyhood dreams come true (which is not a critisism… if I had the means I’d the the same thing). It strikes me as analogous to the Age of Exploration in the 16th and 17th centuries in which curiosity coupled with financial interests to set in motion expeditions and colonization that continue to shape geopolitics to this day.

And of course computer science skills will play a huge role in the backbone driving this effort. However, I predict that as we rightfully drive more and more people into the field, their value will be diluted. It is a simple matter of economics. Still highly compensated, but more proportional to today’s engineers or near-past advanced manufacturing jobs as opposed to the high salaries commanded by today’s data scientists.

I am not recommending pushing kids away from computer science, quite the contrary. This article is a look at mid-term future job prospects.

I contend that design-oriented jobs will be some of the most valued and highly sought after occupations in the future. Not that this is really going out on a limb.

Designing the Frontier

When we think about innovation on Earth today, are minds are most often drawn to things are disruptive of an existing system. Whether it be communication, transportation, occupation, etc., the “innovators” are the ones who disrupt.

In space, no one can hear you disrupt.

Save for our low-earth-orbit satellite system, very little infrastructure exists beyond our thin blue line, and NO infrastructure exists elsewhere. What happens when nothing exists to disrupt? You have to design.

So we’ve faced with designing de novo. Not “disrupting” anything, save an abyss. We’ll need to design habitation, sustainability, agriculture, husbandry, transportation, and communications systems. BUT, just as with Renaissance explorers, we’ll need to design social compacts, economic systems, commerce protocols, and legal institutions. We can think all we want that these civilization devices can be picked up and ported off the Earth… but it hasn’t the case when new lands are colonized on the Earth. And if we look back to the most valued positions during these periods, it was those individuals who had the capacity to design workable systems.

And it Won’t Be Machines

Machines will have taken over about 45% of what we know as current jobs by A.D. 2050. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that machines — with “big data, A”, analytics, and whatever other buzz acronyms will pop up — that the machines can do the heavy lifting on the “design” portion of these systems.

That happens to be the one thing that I don’t think machines are, or will ever be very good at it. Machines will be also be able process far FAR more data than a human and act accordingly. In many instances, it will appear that the machine is “thinking” and “anticipating.” And in a matter of speaking, it is. And while the data is flowing and the conditions are acting in predictable patterns (regardless of how many patterns that may be), the machines will perform well. Better than humans. But here we find what may be the ultimate truism of the universe:

Sh*t happens.

Machines are governed by a set of rules and data and can’t creatively deviate. Humans can. Sometimes this is disastrous. Sometimes it is the only way to succeed. And if you’re designing totally new systems that need to work and adapt, is the the most important skill attribute to have.

Looking down the Milky Way

I suspect and hope that one day civilization will stretch across what we think of today as “space,” and the “job market” pendulum will have swung back to needing whatever the far-future equivalent of computer science is today (good change that my have something to do with agriculture : ). Until then, if we want to look at the “hot jobs” of the next few years, especially those that can’t be replaced by machines, I’d advise something in design.

P.S. — I’m working on a handbook called “Surviving the Robocalypse coming out soon. Stay tuned.

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